Why is my student struggling in school? (Part 1)

As a parent or a teacher have you ever asked:

“Why is my student struggling in school?”
“Why are they having a hard time making friends?”
“Why can’t they follow simple directions?”

Ever been told that your child is acting out in class? Distractible? Unmotivated?

It’s easy to feel defeated. Maybe you have talked to your child until you were blue in the face about their behavior, but they just don’t seem to be able to make the changes needed to succeed at school.

We expect so much of children. We have in our minds that – at a certain age – they should be able to sit for X amount of hours, without fidgeting, and comprehend all that they are being taught. They can hear and see the teacher, so why are they not performing well?

The Hidden Senses

Everyone knows there are 5 basic senses: tasting (gustatory), smelling (olfactory), touching (tactile), seeing (visual), and hearing (auditory).  These senses allow us to take in and learn about the world around us!

Many are not aware that we also have two hidden senses that affect an individual’s ability to perform age-appropriate daily functions: the vestibular and proprioceptive senses. These systems are foundational components of one’s ability to learn and perform at an age-appropriate level.

Below is Williams and Shellenberger’s Pyramid of Learning (1996). You’ll see that academic learning is at the top of the pyramid and beneath it: all the foundational elements that – when present – allow academic learning to take place. Absolutely foundational to learning – see the bottom of the pyramid – is the child’s ability to handle sensory input appropriately!

learning pyramidDr. A. Jean Ayres Ph.D., OTR, the founder of the Sensory Integration approach for therapy stated:

“When sensations flow into a well-organized or integrated manner, the brain can use those sensations to form perceptions, behavior, and learning. When [this process] is disorganized…it will affect many things in life.”

Certain students have challenges processing incoming sensory information from the 7 senses we just discussed, making it difficult for them to participate in their everyday tasks (school, play, etc.). It’s in cases like these that Occupational Therapy becomes incredibly valuable. Kaleidoscope OT is here to help children with such difficulties – to help them succeed in their daily tasks, help them behave appropriately in each environment, and to improve their interactions with others.

Until a child is able to take in and respond to sensations appropriately, the parent, caregiver, teacher, and child will all become frustrated and feel defeated! We cannot expect a child to learn multiplication and division when they are missing key building blocks to learning.

In our next post, we’ll unpack – in great detail – these hidden senses that are so foundational to learning!

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